Crossing the bar, or something like that

Harrison Thomas

Harrison Thomas

Photo by Ray Terribile

Death is strange. One day, you see a person walking among you, and the next day, he’s no longer around. Yeah, it sounds like a dumb cliché, but it’s true.

So, when Harrison Thomas, a 59-year-old avant-garde musician, chess player, computer whiz, recumbent-bike enthusiast and hard-core Kings fan, among other things, stopped showing up at the Weatherstone coffeehouse in Midtown two weeks ago and stopped answering his calls, his friends got worried. Finally, a couple of friends went to Thomas’ house and summoned a police car nearby to investigate. Apparently, Thomas had slipped away a couple of days earlier.

Now, Thomas may not have been a founding member of the Deftones or anything, but he was a well-known member of the local arts community, as one of the denizens of the old Stucco Factory collective and as a keyboardist playing in various sub-rosa musical amalgamations: Nebulous Stucco Thing, featuring B.L. Kennedy, Dutch Falconi, Steve Vanoni, Gene Avery, Arthur Butler and Herb “Herbivore” Kreitzer; Diversion Island, featuring Gary Dinnen and the late Victor Wong; and the immortal Harry Burns Baloney, featuring Vanoni and the late jazz drummer and Charles Bukowski figure Bobby Burns. “Harrison didn’t want to be locked into any fixed ‘band’ thing,” said Dave Davis, who worked with Thomas on a project called Art on a Stick, involving computer animation and music.

Kennedy, who organizes the annual October in the Railroad Earth performance, which has honored Jack Kerouac and other beat poets for the past 24 years, dedicated last Friday’s gathering at Luna’s Café to Thomas. It was a fitting memorial, as Kennedy, Avery, D.R. Wagner and a number of others, including this paper’s Becca Costello, made words jump to life while backed by Chris Hall on sax, flute and organ, and Paul Basye on bass.

On Sunday, November 2, Thomas’ life will be celebrated, honored and remembered by friends at the Gallery Horse Cow, 1409 Del Paso Boulevard. According to Vanoni, the gallery’s proprietor, it’s an informal barbecue-potluck affair, and it starts at 2 p.m. Sometime later, some kind of free-jazz jam (Thomas’ preferred métier) will be held at the Brickhouse Art Studios on 36th Street in Oak Park. No formal funeral or memorial service will be held.

A guy like Harrison Thomas may never be recognized as a pillar of this community, but he was one reason this town can be a pretty damn cool place to live.